SARAJEVO (Reuters) -Bosnia is holding presidential and parliamentary elections on Sunday amid its worst political crisis since the end of the 1992-95 war.
The polls opened at 7 a.m (0500 GMT) and will close at 7 p.m (1700 GMT), with the first official results expected at midnight. Political parties are expected to release their own results around 10 p.m.
WHO IS VOTING FOR WHAT?
Nearly 3.4 million people are eligible to vote for Serb, Croat and Bosniak members of the Balkan country’s tripartite presidency as well as parliaments at the national, regional and cantonal levels.
Bosnia is comprised of two autonomous regions, the Serb Republic and the Federation dominated by Bosniaks and Croats, linked by a weak central government. The Federation is further split into 10 cantons. There is also the unaffiliated Brcko district in the far northeast.
WHO ARE THE MAIN CONTENDERS?
BOSNIAK – A tight race is expected for the Bosniak post on the inter-ethnic presidency. On the ballot are long-serving Bakir Izetbegovic, leader of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the largest Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) one, and Denis Becirovic of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), whose bid is supported by 11 civic-oriented opposition parties.
CROAT – The candidacy of moderate Croat Zeljko Komsic for a fourth term on the presidency has been strongly contested by nationalist parties led by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), whose candidate Borjana Kristo will be Komsic’s only rival.
SERB – The Serb presidency member will be chosen by voters in the Serb Republic (RS). The candidates are Zeljka Cvijanovic, a close ally of separatist RS leader Milorad Dodik, and opposition leader Mirko Sarovic.
The presidency has a mostly ceremonial and symbolic role but has the final say on Bosnia’s foreign and defence policies.
A lack of reliable polls and reports of irregularities ahead of the vote have made it difficult to predict the outcome.
Many analysts believe nationalist parties will remain dominant and that the biggest change may come in the Bosniak camp, which is the largest and most diverse, while Serb and Croat nationalists will remain in the driver’s seat.
If Komsic wins again, Croat nationalists might block the formation of the Federation government and push for “re-organisation” of the region they share with Bosniaks to create their own ethnic administrative unit.
With the possibility that Dodik, currently the Serb member of the presidency, is again elected president of the Serb Republic, separatist moves there are sure to continue, eroding the integrity of the Bosnian state.
Under the 1995 Dayton accords that ended Bosnia’s war in which 100,000 died, an international envoy was tasked with overseeing the implementation of peace provisions, with powers to dismiss obstructive politicians and impose laws.
German politician Christian Schmidt, who assumed the job in 2021, has used these powers twice this year to enable funding of the election and shore up its integrity. He could intervene to unblock the work of the next Federation government.
EUFOR, the European Union peacekeeping force that has been deployed in Bosnia since 2004, has been beefed up this year over concerns that instability emanating from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could spread to the Western Balkans. Dodik is a vocal supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-SucicEditing by Mark Heinrich)